4 NaNoWriMo Principles for the Rest of Us

We’re now knee-deep in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the ambitious writer’s one-month sprint to 50,000 words.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of writers take on the challenge, and thousands succeed, saying adios to November with a first draft of a shiny new novel in tow.

It’s a truly amazing feat. But it’s not for everyone.

4 NaNoWriMo Principles for the Rest of Us

NaNoWriMo Isn’t for Everyone

You may be a slow writer, or perhaps other demands in your life don’t allow you to take the required time to reach NaNoWriMo’s particular goal.

If you’re the kind of writer who isn’t the best fit for NaNoWriMo (like me), I’ve got a secret for you: You can still put NaNoWriMo to work to make yourself write more, even without taking part in the official challenge.

But You Can Learn from NaNoWriMo, Even Without Participating

How is this possible? Well, NaNoWriMo works because of the productivity principles it’s founded on. Even without participating in the official event, you can use these principles to challenge yourself and write more—no matter what month it is.

So what are these NaNoWriMo principles, and how can you use them? Let’s take a look.

1. Set Your Sights High

NaNoWriMo writers take on a hefty goal: 50,000 words in a month. It’s a little extreme. A little crazy, even. But it’s attainable if you work hard and make it a priority.

NaNoWriMo works for a simple reason: Its goal is big enough to inspire, difficult enough to force writers to focus, while staying within reach (for many writers, at least). It strikes the aspiration sweet spot.

How to Make it Work for You:

What’s your aspiration sweet spot? For me, it’s boosting my morning word count from 750 words each day to 1,000. For someone else, it might be simply getting 100 words on the page every single day, no matter what. Or completing edits on your work in progress.

Whatever you choose, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. But also make sure it’s realistically within your reach. There’s no point in making grandiose pledges if you know going in you won’t be able to really do it.

2. Start the Countdown

The aspiration sweet spot isn’t the only reason NaNoWriMo works. Credit also goes to its just-right time frame. After all, meeting the end-of-November deadline is half of what makes NaNoWriMo a challenge… and so much fun.

The drop-dead date at the end of the month is just as important as the word count itself. This is the part that forces you to focus—it takes reaching your goal from a leisurely stroll to a sprint.

This urgency forces writers to focus under pressure and get the job done.

Make it Work for You:

Set a deadline. Keep this deadline long enough to accomplish something real, but short enough to force you to maintain focus. And don’t be afraid to light a fire under your booty—if your goal doesn’t make you a little nervous, take it up another notch.

But again, don’t go overboard. If you already know it’s not possible to reach your goal within your given time frame, it’s not going to help you.

3. Go Public

You don’t have to make it public when you do NaNoWriMo, but the community surrounding the event strongly incentivizes it.

We’ll talk about the power of community in a moment, but the simple power of publicly declaring your intentions is huge.

Make it Work for You:

Go out of your way to declare your intentions. Talk to your girlfriend about it. Talk to your parents about it. Talk to your coworkers about it (maybe). Post about it online. Blog about it.

I’m officially giving you permission to be the obsessed weirdo that everyone rolls their eyes about.

Because when you make your goal public, all of a sudden, you’re accountable for following through, accountable to your friends, to your family, to online writing buddies you’ve maybe never even met in person.

Want to save face? Put the work in!

4. Work with a Community

What’s even better than accountability? Support. With chat forums, hashtags and local meetups, NaNoWriMo does an awesome job of connecting its participants so they can cheer each other on.

This is a big deal. NaNoWriMo is a serious challenge, and there are a million ways for a writer to fall behind. When someone else who’s going through the same thing assures you that you can keep going, it can be the difference between success and failure.

Make it Work for You:

There are plenty of alternate creative challenges out there—if one fits your needs, you can leverage that challenge to build your community.

But if not, just create your own. Tap your writer friends to create a similar challenge for themselves, and then check in with each other regularly for cheers and support.

There’s more than one way to skin a novel

NaNoWriMo is an awesome way to accomplish a major writing goal, but it’s hardly the only way to get it done.

If NaNoWriMo just isn’t for you, or if you’re not in a position to pursue it this year, that’s okay. You can still put the principles to work to make big strides toward your writing goals.

Put these NaNoWriMo principles to work, and you’ll be well on your way to success.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, how’s it going so far? If you’re taking the year off, what are you doing to improve your writing habit instead? Let us know in the comments!


What is your aspiration sweet spot? 100 words a day? 1,000? Whatever it is, do it. Write your daily goal, and then post the first three paragraphs in the comments section.

And if you post, please be sure to cheer on your fellow writers there as well.

About Emily Wenstrom

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

  • I am so far behind this year. And for me 8,000 words is behind. But how can they expect me to write on weekends when football is on I mean really
    (exasperated look). But week days are my work days ) I’m just waking up with my second cup of coffee) and planning my writing day.,

    My story has taken on more turns than a roller coaster I am having fun discovering my characters quirks . and they are having fun learning about me.. See the key there , have fun. ,, ok back to the grind stone… later all keep at it we can do it….

    • Don’t worry. It’s okay to take at least a couple days off from the one’s writing durign a given week. I usually leave Sunday’s free to watch a movie on DVD with my family. It’s a great means to spend quality time with them. It’s important to have balance in life. For me, my family helps me stay grounded and level headed when I get to caught up in what I want out of life. It’s okay to have aspirations, goals and interests outside of family, but it’s just as important not to forget them. It’s also important to make some personal time to spend with one’s self. I try to put aside at least one day or two a week to get caught up on my reading. I’m currently reading three different books at a time. I like to challenge my mind. I can keep all the stories straight, as well. I believe it’s just as important to take some time off during the week to study the works of other authors as it is to compose one’s own writing. In doing so, I’m enabled to keep my writing skills sharp. However, I still make writing part of my regular practice.

      • Oh I’m with you on the reading others writings. I’ve just started a book by Ellis Weiner. A new author for me, a friend sent it to me thinking I might like it. Haven’t gotten far into it yet. but love discovering a new author. its like opening a Christmas present an finding something you had never expected.

  • Kathryn VanWyhe

    1000 words a day(Except I am really behind!:))

    Darkness. Peter squeezed my hand as we walked through what I believe was a dank corridor in a mysteriously empty home. My heart beat faster and faster until I felt as if it would burst out of chest and would fall on the floor. Peter’s hand began to grow clammy and I could feel the temperature lowering as we inched our way across the floor. My rags made a rustling sound when they rubbed against the cement floor and his cape kept sticking to patches of the floor. The darkness was deafening and yet I still sensed that someone was staring at us. Waiting, watching for the opportune moment to pounce. “Melina, what is going on. Why did you want to explore this house?”, whispered Peter.

    Then we reached the end of the hall.

    I felt around for a latch and possibly a door handle when the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The air was so cold my hands couldn’t stop shaking. A sound could be heard coming behind us and I was terrified. I imagined a dark ghoul with a blade of death that would cut us down and then the sound stopped and I knew he was upon us. The Lord of-laughter? Laughter could be heard from behind me. I turned around and saw a sight that sent anger coursing through my veins. My friends were standing there with torches and laughing. Laughing at my face!

    • Great writing. Terrific job of drawing the readers in through building suspense in the story. Beautiful imagery and prose.

    • That was awesome! The description was good and drove the reader to keep reading. Really nice. *claps*

  • LilianGardner

    Hi everyone,
    Forgive me for not posting regularly, but I’ve taken up the NaNo challenge and I’m daring myself to write like mad. Frankly, I’ll be overwhelmed if I reach the 50,000 word mark by the last day of November
    What’s encouraging is that we must write on without correcting or editing, and I must admit, saves me a lot of time.
    I’m way behind with the word count, but I keep promising myself to do better ‘domani’.
    Happy writing, y’all. I’m curious to discover how many of us reached the goal.

    • EmFairley

      Congratulations for taking the plunge, Lilian! I’m also doing NaNo for the first time and while I’ve not changed my style and I’m still editing as I go, I’m really enjoying the challenge. Good luck!

      • LilianGardner

        Thanks EmFairley.
        I’m enjoying NaNo. I love challenges because they spur me on, like a horse galloping freely without reins.
        Doesn’t editing rob you of time?
        Tons of good luck.

        • EmFairley

          Editing does slow things down a bit, but because I’m writing with a coauthor, we find it easier to edit as we go to check we’re still on the right track. Thanks for the wishes!

        • EmFairley

          Further to my earlier answer, while editing slows me down a bit, I find it actually increases my word count. In some cases quite considerably. Take yesterday for example. Having completed the edit of one chapter, I wrote another, of 1,200 words. I’ve just now finished the edit of that one and the word count stands at 1,739. An almost 50% increase.

    • Hi Lilian,

      I’m doing it too, and writing without editing is definitely helping me to get my word count, although I know my novel’s going to need some serious revisions after I finish.

      Good luck as you keep going. I got a little behind over the weekend myself, so I’m just tacking on the words I missed to the next few days. I’m eager to get this story out, so hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up.

      • LilianGardner

        Hi Tom,
        I must confess that when I see you name i read your post immediately. I like your style and content.
        How wonderful that the NaNo challenge weaves a web around those of us who join to share our views.
        Happy writing, Tom.

        • Exactly. The community building is one of the best features of NaNo.

      • LilianGardner

        Hi Tom,
        I’m unsure of the rules of NaNo. Do you know if I may include the first part of a novel that I’ve written previously, and add to it, to bring it to 50 000 words, or is the challenge for a brand new start?
        Thanks! I’l be watching for your response.

        • I think the official rules are that the 50,000 words are supposed to be from a fresh start in order to “win.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t use the month to drive toward 50,000 words. The word sprint, I think, is more important than necessarily winning the challenge.

          • LilianGardner

            Thanks! I agree. I’m not aiming to win but to challenge myself to get as close to the goal as I can. The more I write, the more I’ll believe in my capabilities.
            I’m having fun because I’m not obliged to share my writng with anyone.

  • Viv Sang

    I agree with you Debra. After all, football is nearly as important as NaNoWriMo. I’m behind, too. My daily word target yesterday was just over 1700, but I’ve been unable to write anything today so it’ll go up again.

    I do find the daily target to finish on time is very good. It makes me feel that it’s doable.

  • My daily writing goal is to write anywhere ranging from 500 words a day to at least 1,000 words a day. It’s always rewarding to know I can attain my goals. I set my egg timer for thirty minutes a day. Sometimes I get approx. 1800+ words in a day, or a little less, depending on how quickly my thoughts and ideas flow. I usually try to let my mind flow freely. I prepare myself for my writing by making some sugar free koolaid or have a cup of green tea, and take some deep breaths to get my mind focused.

    When the timer is set, I let my mind take off, writing whatever words pop into my head. I try not to worry about making sense at the time when I’m writing. The most important thing is I’m having fun with what I’m doing, I’m productive, and I’m writing something. It doesn’t matter about the quality of the writing. There will be time enough for editing and proofreading once the writing project is completed.

    I find it sometimes difficult to come up with a topic to write about. So, I take the initiative to free write, or free type by let the first word or phrase pop into my mind and write it down immediately. I don’t allow for distractions. However, no time is ever the perfect time to write. When there are distractions, I zero in on my writing and block the distractions out of my mind, if I can. If I can’t, I continue writing about what is going on around me at the time of my writing. I find distractions can be used to my advantage, because I can sometimes draw inspiration from them. If my family members are talking loudly while I’m writing, there are times when I ask for them to quiet down so I can write. Then there are other times when I’d type up some parts of the conversation they’d be having, along with writing their actions I happen to be observing when glancing up from time to time from my computer or my journal. I look at their expressions, as well. Expressions are just as important to incorporate into one’s writing as anything else to bring a story to life. They are a useful tool for making the characters within a given story come alive, and therefore allow for an emotional connection between the writer and the reading audience.

  • Bangalorekar Ranganath

    You’ve done it again, Emily. I’m inspired. Keep inspiring and keep growing. Wish you all the best.

  • rosie

    Hello! I’m so excited about NaNoWriMo at the moment. I’m seventeen, so I thought my age might mean that I’m somehow not capable of it? So I didn’t officially enter, and began in late October when my teacher said I could inspire people with my writing.
    But now I’ve reached 21 000 words! I guess it’s because I let go of perfectionism (most of the words are rubbish.) I could’ve expected this because I write around 6500 words a day–if I don’t write I feel this huge void-like sense of lack.
    So yay! NaNoWriMo isn’t so impossible after all! To quote Katherine Rundell–she’s awesome, go read her books–“never ignore a possible.”

    • LilianGardner

      Awesome, Rosie!
      What? 6500 words a day! It makes me feel so small.
      Good for you. I believe that letting go of perfectionism is the key to get more words on paper.

      • rosie

        Wow, 3000 words a day is amazing, Katherine! Well done: you’re doing so amazingly.
        Lilian, don’t feel small–I’m still in school and don’t have the responsibilities of an adult so it’s unfair to compare. I also try not to compare myself to geniuses like JK Rowling and stuff, because at the moment it’s November exams: in South Africa where I live, those are final exams. (Our academic year begins in January.) So writing is procrastination from studying! Comparing to other people is unfair to yourself: we’ve just got to celebrate our own achievements and other people’s to bring each other up.

        • LilianGardner

          Thanks Rosie, for your words of comfort.
          I lived in Johannesburg in the seventies, and loved the place. What a beautiful land South Africa is. I cannot forget the rows of Jacarand trees in bloom in February.
          Wishing you all the best for your exams.
          Happy writing, too.

    • Hey, sounds like we’re pretty much in the same boat! I’m seventeen, this is my first year doing NaNoWriMo, and I reached 23,000 words today. My word goal has been 3,000 words a day. And, yeah, mine is pretty much full of errors. So long perfectionism! Keep up the good work Rosie!

  • Bangalorekar Ranganath

    Go through my gist pasted below and predict whether or not I’ll be able to surpass the 50,000 word count! Let it be known that I compete, even if it’s a -ve prediction!!!

    Priyadarshini serves as correspondent of the weekly magazine ‘Shine like a Star’, a venture of the Glowing Media Group of Publications. A groom each will propose to marry her during nine assignments mentioned below so far, in her career.

    Assignment 1: Inter-action at ‘Hang Around Gallery’ Mall. A corporate inspired by her narration proposes. She declines, saying she’d keep the media relation alive but would try to suggest some other suitable match for him.

    Assignment 2: Inter-action at ‘Fitness Nook’. A charming partner of that entity proposes. She recollects a tragic incident and declines, saying she’d keep the media relation alive but would try to suggest some other suitable match for him.

    Assignment 3: Inter-action at ‘Superb Garments Factory’. A widower serving as a manager there proposes. She convinces her urge to marry an unmarried, but promises that her magazine’s good relation will always be there.

    Assignment 4: Inter-action at ‘Sound Health Hospital’. A surgeon proposes. She jokingly expresses fear towards doctors and surgeons. But promises best possible relation of the magazine.

    Assignment 5: Inter-action at ‘Evershine Buiders’. An engineer proposes and she declines.

    Assignment 6: Inter-action at ‘Knowledge Academy Group of Institutions’. A Professor proposes and she declines.

    Assignment 7: Inter-action at ‘Urban Care Infrastructure’. Comes across a director’s proposal and declines.

    Assignment 8: Inter-action at ‘Dream Hospitality’. An architect proposes and she declines.

    Assignment 9: Inter-action at ‘Bite and Sip Cuisine’. A food technologist proposes and she declines.

    Will her marriage idea really work? Appears, ‘Art of Living Webteam’ has a solution for it. A computer programmer proposes, and she is in an extensive thought process, to find out what could be wrong if she accepts it.

  • EmFairley

    Great post, thanks Emily! I’ve taken the plunge and I’m officially a NaNo freshman this year! Eek! While I’ve not changed my edit as I go style, and I’m working on the novel that I’d been working on with a coauthor for a bit, we’re both really enjoying the challenge offered by NaNo. We may not finish the draft by the end of the month, but we’ll sure as heck be a lot further on with it than we were and that in itself will be rewarding

  • I’m doing NaNo this year after a failed attempt last year. My goal has been 1,700 words per day, which I’ve been able to do with the exception of Saturday and Sunday. It’s been a fun challenge. Here’s the first part of what I wrote this morning, which is about 20% of the way through my novel.

    Denver. She remembered the name of the city from the history books. As she looked around, she could imagine that it was once a beautiful and thriving city.

    “Maybe there’s someplace we can stay here tonight.”

    “We need to be careful, Elise. There’s no telling who else might be hiding out in a place like this.”

    The thought hadn’t occurred to her. As she looked around the city, she noticed several buildings that would be perfect for housing people. Most of the major cities of North America were abandoned because the virus that was used to wipe out the Alternates was most concentrated in the cities where there were large groupings of people. Many of the cities were bombed out, and as Elise walked around, she could see rubble on the ground from buildings that had been destroyed. The cities were places of death, and no one wanted to live there after the world began to reorganize itself.

  • felicia_d

    This year is my second attempt at NaNoWriMo, and I feel TONS better about my writing and the process. I passed the halfway mark just before midnight last night, and while I’m jazzed about THAT – I’m drowning in anxiety! This is NOT the story I outlined. It’s not the story I began with. It morphs more and more everyday. Characters are popping up left and right. I feel it is a better story, but I also feel as though my Muse is chillin’ over in the corner with a glass of wine, encouraging my characters to “have at it!” Not knowing where this story is going or how it will end is making this one wild ride.

    • Carl Robson

      I share your woes. I’ve essentially chucked my plot outline out the window, and thought to myself ‘oh forget it, let’s just see what happens!’

      • felicia_d

        IKR? It’s a little scary, but I’m having a blast and writing everyday without issue. Let’s see if I’m this happy in two weeks! Good luck to you!

  • Thanks for the great post – I like that you caution that it isn’t for everyone – not everyone can work in such intense bursts. Great resources on here generally.

  • It wasn’t until one in the morning that Cassandra was nudged awake by Damian to find him holding both of their bags. The bullet train had come to a stop and the holographic words “Oklahoma City” scrolled down the isle. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and silently followed Damian out of the train, disrupting the flow of the hologram and still earning conspicuous looks from other passengers, thanks to her uniform. They stepped onto the platform, into the cool night air. The first thing that Cassandra noticed was the smell, so fresh and clean compared to that of DC. She grabbed her suite case from him and they found a mag cab waiting at the side of the road. They got in, entered the address from his mothers house, and then they were off. It would be another hour before they reached their destination, so Cassandra landed her head up against the window as they glided down the road, the mag cab feeling slow and gentle compared to the bullet train, and kept her eyes trained on the stars, watching as they grew progressively brighter they further away they got from the city.

  • Sara Beth Williams

    I”m at 28,000 but i actually wrote a lot of it several months ago. I think the thing i Like about NaNo is that it gives you a the drive to finish something you might have already started. That’s what I did 2 years ago as well. It is a lot harder to write 50,000 from start to finish. Also, I really liked the fact that you mentioned making goals for yourself. I have read a lot of writers have issues with too many projects, not enough time, and hten if you’re REALLY into writing there’s the whole balancing all the social media stuff. I recently broke down my goals by month, going out about 4 months right now. It significantly reduced my stress level as I was trying to write and edit a 3 book series simultaneously, and there was a 4th project in my head, (which is what I am working on now for NaNo). So i took a break from those 3 projects and broke them down into monthly goals so that I am not so overwhelmed and stressed. I”m sure most pros do this already lol but I suppose you learn as you go somewhere along the line

  • This is a great post, Emily! I’ve done NaNo once and while it was fun, I probably won’t do it again for a while due to other things going on in my life now. But I definitely feel like my writing and editing has been going really well this month due to everyone’s enthusiasm resulting from it—and I’m trying to push myself to write a bit more, too.

  • Mine has been 1000 words a day of my NaNoWriMo project, or any other writing event in particular. Here’s the three paragraphs from today:

    I just watched a planet get swallowed up by a monster. Darth Vitiate was originally a pureblood. I had hoped my people were above such a thing but I suppose not. He initially had red skin. I cannot believe I attempted to serve a man. All those people I interrogated, tortured, helped enslave, among other things were in order to help further his goal. The goal to annihilate every last living thing on Ziost.

    Ziost was the planet I received intelligence training from. It is where I became a Cipher. It is where I became the size I am today. On a more adult note it is where I learned to refine my love making skills. And it got destroyed. And not destroyed by a fleet but by the dark side’s master wielder who simply absorbed every last living breath. I went down there again today to pick up the pieces. During that time, I prayed I would not run into Theron’s corpse.

    I saw Theron again; it has been months since Yavin IV, and I was convinced I was over him. I was positive I was ready to move on. And there he is. He was battered and bruised, but to me he was just as handsome and as much the agent as when I first met him. In spite of things, I think we both looked at each other fondly. He was more than an old friend, and more than an old fling. And if I just watched his death from the safety of an Imperial ship, I think I would just want to die.